Who am I
Who are you?
Can you tell
By the clothes I wear
By how I walk
Or who I love?
What shall you call me?
Or just by my name
It matters what the world thinks
Roles and categories
Power and violence
Construct cages for our souls
We can be beaten
We can be killed
We can be lost in shame
Open the hearts
Open the doors
Free the minds
Find the courage
Proclaim it loud
You are you
I am me
We will bring hope
A blessing beyond fear.
A video of this sermon can be seen by clicking (here)
How many of you have ever heard the story of the Princess and the Pea? She had the perfect bed. There were mattresses piled upon mattresses, feather bed upon feather bed. How many were there?
Hmm, some different answers, but it doesn’t really matter for the point of the story. There was a tiny pea underneath all that soft, comfortable, wonderful bedding, but she couldn’t sleep because of that tiny pea. She had a simply terrible night.
Ah, the curse of perfection!
One could even say it is the curse of fairy tales. How many of them just set us up for feeling like our own lives are failures?
Will that handsome prince never arrive? Probably not, so we settle for a good-natured frog. Then we try to turn the frog into a prince. We can kiss him and hug him all we want, but he will still be happier in a swamp.
Dear people, it is time we realize it. We are all pretty much frogs and we all live in a swampy, messy, world. With climate change, the swamp is slowly heating up, and I just hope we notice it in time.
That is another myth, as I understand it.
A real frog will actually jump out of a pot of water long before he is cooked. That is, as long as no one has clamped the lid tightly shut on her.
The never-ending search for perfection is a curse, but so is never trying to improve your life.
Balance, it is always about balance. Our culture tends to push us toward seeking perfection. As in our reading, we are often reminded to do our very best. But what if our best isn’t good enough? What if our best is not perfect?
Voltaire said that the best is the enemy of the good. Sometimes that is translated, as the perfect is the enemy of the good. We see this all the time in politics, where elected officials don’t want to compromise. No law is perfect. Democracy is messy.
We also see it in our personal lives, in our marriages and our relationships. We see it in our jobs. Life is not a fairy tale. Stuff happens. Things go wrong. We blow it. If we don’t make a lot of money, or even enough money to survive in some comfort and security, we can feel like failures. If our partner still leaves wet towels on the floor after all these years, then we sometimes begin to question the relationship. Why won’t they change? (I want to make it clear that Anne doesn’t do that!)We might have an addiction that we think we have completely recovered from, but the craving comes back. If we give in to it, sometimes we are afraid to try again. If we have messed up too many times, we can feel like it will never get better.
We fail one math test and then we decide we hate math.
I loved math when I was younger. When you got the answer right, it was right. There were no grey areas; it was pure perfection. Geometry was beauty. Calculus, on the other hand, made no sense to me, and I did not enjoy it at all. Statistics were great, however. I loved the idea of being 95% confident of something. It seemed pretty good.
There is nothing wrong with 95%. There was an old commercial that used to play on TV. Ivory Soap was supposed to be 99 and 44/100 % pure. Remember that? Ivory was also “the soap that floats.”
We too can float, even if we aren’t 100% pure. The curse of perfection can also damage us spiritually. We aren’t supposed to do bad things, fine, but sometimes all of us think bad thoughts. Sometimes we also do bad things, even things we define as bad. Does this mean we are evil and worthless? Can we really control all of our actions, much less our thoughts?
Historical Unitarianism maintained that we all have divine potential, that Jesus was not uniquely divine. The same is true, as I understand it, in LDS theology. Talk about pressure! To live up to our divine nature, must we be perfect in all things, in word, in deed, and even in our thoughts? I don’t think so. I don’t think perfection is possible. It might even be ungodly.
I love the story from Matthew 15. A Canaanite woman asked Jesus to help her daughter.
(Remember that Canaan was cursed in the story of Noah that we talked about a few weeks ago? If you missed that sermon, it is on youtube.) The Jews despised the Canaanites. Jesus ignored her for awhile, and then said,
“God sent me only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.” She still asked for his help and he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.”
The woman answered, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus replied, “Woman, you have great faith! I will do what you asked.”
I love that story because it was a woman who challenged Jesus, and I love it because he realized he was wrong. Even Jesus was not perfect.
Gandhi is also lifted up as an example of goodness. I was actually rather pleased to learn that when he was a young man, he beat his wife. It was something his culture told him was necessary, but he later realized how wrong it was. Even Gandhi was not perfect.
Monday is Veterans Day. It is a day we set aside to honor those who have fought and sacrificed in our country’s many wars. There are always wounds from war, even if someone comes home physically whole. It is very appropriate that we honor our veterans. It is also appropriate that we honor their families, who have also suffered.
If you have served or are serving in our armed forces, please stand if you are able.
If you have a family member who is or has served, please stand. Thank you too.
Because we love you, we know that you are heroes, and we also know that you are not perfect. War is never easy; there are times of great courage and also of great fear. There are feelings of pride, honor and glory, and also feelings of regret and sorrow. No one is perfect. You are still heroes. Even our country is not perfect.
When we try to make our country perfect, when we try to make ourselves perfect, we close our minds and our hearts to pain and suffering. We also close ourselves off from love.
We can love our flag better when we see it as a symbol of aspiration, a struggle for a more perfect union, as a dream that will never be fully realized.
I spoke of the Unitarian side of our heritage earlier, but the Universalist side is what creates the balance. Our Universalist ancestors believed a loving God, a God who loves everyone, no matter who they are and no matter what they have done or haven’t done. Universal salvation means no one is left out.
Not even you. Not even you.
Some of you may not know it, but Joseph Smith was raised in a Universalist family, so the LDS faith also has Universalist those roots as well. It is all about balance.
Leonard Cohen wrote a song called “Anthem.” It is an anti-war song, a little awkward for Veteran’s Day, but it is also about the beauty of things that are not perfect. Let me read some of the lyrics:
The birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
Don’t you love that line? There is a crack in everything.
Sue Browning, in our earlier reading, said, Maybe ‘the best is the enemy of the good’ when it drives our energies toward comparison and judgment, rather than toward kindness and encouragement.
But maybe there is more to it than that. Maybe striving always for perfection robs us of the beauty we might otherwise see, if we only let the light in.
Can we love weakness as much as we love strength? Can we love it in others as well as in ourselves?
Can we free ourselves from the curse of perfection, and how might we do that?
Some of you may have heard of the “Curse of Macbeth.”
Those of you who are involved in the theater certainly have. It is considered very unlucky to say the name of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth in a theater. This is a church not a theater, so relax. The play is instead referred to as “the Scottish Play.”
But if someone says the dreaded word, “Macbeth” there is a remedy. The offender must go outside, turn around three times, spit, and say the foulest word they can think of.
You might want to try that later if you suffer from the curse of perfection. Remember that the word doesn’t have to be truly foul, just the worst that you can think of at the time.
Or maybe you just want to repeat the words of Mary Oliver, slightly changed to the personal pronoun.
I do not have to be good. (repeat)
I do not have to walk on my knees for a hundred miles through a desert, repenting. (repeat)
I only have to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves. (repeat)
We, all of us, no matter what our failings and our flaws, have a place not only in the family of things, but also in this church community.
Our light can show through the cracks; it is the light of truth, warmed by love. Our imperfect offerings are blessed. You are blessed, and you are a blessing. The rose will begin to open if you let yourself be guided by love.
How the winds have blown
Our breath away
The super storms have come
No one can deny it now
The sea is rising in revenge
The drowning children cry
It’s time to make some changes
Clean the skies at last
To protect our planet home
Our tears are not enough
Our hands must get to work.
Video of this sermon can be seen (here)
Call to Worship (here)
Are your hearts open? What about your minds? Are your arms open wide to welcome and embrace diversity and change?
This, dear ones, is what liberal religion is all about. Liberal religion is not, however, exactly the same as liberal politics. One of our newer attendees asked me that question the other day, and this seems a good time to address that issue. It is a question that is, like most of the answers to questions we ask here, complicated.
If you want simple answers to every question, you might be in the wrong church. You are still welcome here; however, don’t get me wrong on that.
It is November and election time. Part of my religious practice is to study candidates and issues and to vote in every election. Our fifth principle calls for us to affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
This means we get to make up our own minds as individuals. No one is expected to vote in a particular way simply because they are members of this church.
This is a liberal religion, but we are not all political liberals here.
Definitions of liberal include the following:
Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes.
“We have always done it that way,” is not a good answer in one of our churches. It might be an explanation, but it doesn’t close off the consideration of other options. Similarly, we do our work democratically. People get to vote on what affects them.
To be liberal is also to be open to new ideas, to be broad minded and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others. It is to be generous in spirit. We try to build bridges across our divisions.
You have probably heard me say before that Unitarian Universalism is deeply rooted in American values. There is a reason most people agree with our seven principles the first time they hear them. Liberty and justice are words contained in the pledge of allegiance after all.
There have been 5 past US presidents who either attended Unitarian churches or professed Unitarian beliefs: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore and William Taft. While he did not specifically identify with any organized religion, Abraham Lincoln had Universalist leanings. Some of you may also know that our current president, Barack Obama, attended a Unitarian Universalist church as a child. It was the faith of his maternal grandparents.
But let’s talk about William Taft for a minute. He was president between 1909 and 1913, and he was also a Republican. He later became the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the only US president to hold that position.
His great-grandson, John Taft wrote an article in the New York Times recently where he said he was a genetic Republican, claiming that 5 generations of Tafts have served our nation as unwaveringly stalwart Republicans.
In his article he also says this:
“Throughout my family’s more than 170-year legacy of public service, Republicans have represented the voice of fiscal conservatism. Republicans have been the adults in the room. Yet somehow the current generation of party activists has managed to do what no previous Republicans have been able to do — position the Democratic Party as the agents of fiscal responsibility.”
He went on to say:
“There is more than a passing similarity between Joseph McCarthy and Ted Cruz, between McCarthyism and the Tea Party movement. The Republican Party survived McCarthyism because, ultimately, its excesses caused it to burn out. And eventually party elders in the mold of my grandfather were able to realign the party with its brand promise: The Republican Party is (or should be) the Stewardship Party. The Republican brand is (or should be) about responsible behavior. The Republican Party is (or should be) at long last, about decency.”
The Republican values he speaks of are quite consistent with Unitarian Universalism.
But here is where it gets a bit more complicated. Clearly, there have been, and are, a lot of politically liberal Unitarian Universalists. If we did a survey, I suspect most of our members vote for democrats most of the time. I also suspect that the number of Democrats among us is increasing over time and the number of Republicans is declining.
I don’t think it is anything that we are doing, however. Instead, I think the right wing of Republican Party has been systematically driving religiously liberal people away. Marriage Equality should not be a partisan issue, but it has become so. A plan for compassionate immigration reform should have nothing to do with whether someone is a Republican or a Democrat. How to deal with global climate change is a scientific problem. Science is not a left wing conspiracy. The right of a woman to control her own body should have nothing to do with whether or not you are a fiscal conservative.
It started years ago, when economic conservatives began wooing religious conservatives. They became the “family values party,” but they were very restrictive in how they defined a family. When you have agreed to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people, it becomes difficult to demonize others, no matter who they are. Immigrants, gays, poor people have all been demonized by the tea party wing of the Republican Party.
But listen to me now, because the left has done some of the same things. They cast all conservatives as racist bigots.
It is hard not to hate your political opponents. It is hard not to hate those you are afraid of. I do think fear is at the root of much of the political discord these days.
America as we know it will end if the other party gains control of the presidency and gets to appoint justices to the Supreme Court. Both sides are saying that. Some people really hate Obama; others hate Mike Lee and Ted Cruz. In some ways, it is like being afraid of the devil. It is sort of a fantasy. Very few people are really completely evil; they just have very different views of the world.
This is where liberal religion can ride to the rescue and perhaps begin a dialogue. Open hearted, open minded, curious as to what the other thinks and feels. It doesn’t always work, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Listen for the middle ground, listen for where you might agree, or at least have something to learn.
It is how we do theology here. We listen to each other. Christians, pagans, and atheists can get along, and form an awesome religious community together. So why can’t Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians get along in the political sphere?
In this church we need radical visionaries, but we also need fiscally conservative financial stewards. Our families and groups of friends also need diversity of opinions. Even if the kids like it, we shouldn’t eat out only at McDonald’s. Try a little sushi,Mexican or Thai food. We need a little spice in our lives. We need to be more liberal. Our country needs a lot more liberals, whatever their party affiliation.
Politicians in particular need to be open minded, tolerant of differences, and generous of spirit. I suspect President Taft tried to function that way. I believe that President Obama has also tried.
I am a values voter. I try to vote for the candidates that reflect the religious values I care about.
I have opinions about methods and policies, but bottom-line, it is values I care about. Does a policy promote the inherent worth and dignity of all? Is it designed to bring about more liberty and justice for all? Is there an element of compassion contained in the plan? Is there some respect for diversity as well as the realization that we are all connected?
This year is an off year in the election cycle. All we get to vote on is a few candidates for city council, and that is pretty much it, at least here in Ogden. I have already voted, and I want to encourage you to vote as well if you have not done so already. One vote has a much larger impact on the local level than it does in national or even statewide elections.
I think we should always take the time to vote, even when we have every reason to believe that our vote won’t make a difference. And it may not in partisan elections. We are pretty much a one party state; you know that. But even though it may not affect the eventual outcome, it does something for you. You are engaged.
Voting is an act of faith. Your actions can reflect your values. What we do, and what we don’t do, does matter.
The word of Mark Belletini, which were read earlier, can bear repeating:
“For religion to be significant, it has to provide more than the comforts of community. It also had to provide opportunities for deepening, for what I call spiritual growth, and for the casting down of false images of stereotypes, which hurts us all. A good religion has to open us to the real diversity of our modern world. For our work as liberal religious people is not to be competitive with others, and to find ways to supersede others, but rather to find ways to supersede ourselves, to grow beyond our limitations and our constrictive boundaries, each and every one of us. Diversity, you see, must not end up being some sort of feel good slogan, a word we keep in our back pocket to make us feel like we’re broad minded. Diversity is a gift. But it cannot be a gift… unless it is received. It is only received when there are hands and hearts open enough to receive it. And the opening of fists into welcoming hands and welcoming hearts is our spiritual work….”
How can you grow? What will you do with the gift of diversity? “Don’t be afraid of some change.” We sang that line in our opening hymn. I am not sure that it is possible to not be afraid of change. Rather, I would hope we grow courage in spite of our fears. I hope we can have the courage to engage, to be open-minded and open hearted and to be true religious liberals in word and in deed.